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Islanders' Okposo building on playoff performance

Thursday, 10.24.2013 / 9:20 AM / News
By Brian Compton
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Islanders\' Okposo building on playoff performance
New York Islanders forward Kyle Okposo has followed his Stanley Cup Playoff performance with a solid start to the 2013-14 season.

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- New York Islanders forward Kyle Okposo would be the first to tell you he struggled through much of last season. The Islanders' first-round pick (No. 7) at the 2006 NHL Draft had four goals in 48 regular-season games, a huge dip from the 24 goals he scored in 79 games in 2011-12.

Things changed during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. With the Islanders trailing 3-1 in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal against the Pittsburgh Penguins, forward Matt Moulson was hit hard by Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen in the neutral zone. Okposo, knowing his team needed a lift, challenged Niskanen to a fight.

Okposo landed a couple of early right hands to Niskanen's face, leaving a cut under his left eye. Fourteen seconds after play resumed, Colin McDonald scored to make it a one-goal game. Just over five minutes later, Matt Martin got the Islanders even. Okposo scored the game-winner midway through the third period, then scored two more goals in the series before the Islanders were eliminated in six games.

"It was kind of the moment and I thought we could use a little spark," Okposo recalled to NHL.com at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday. "It just kind of happened. I didn't even really see the hit, I just saw he kind of got hurt a little bit, so I wanted to jump-start the boys."

Islanders center Frans Nielsen said, "Of course when one of your leaders steps up like that, you know something's not right. You've got to wake up. [Assistant coach Doug Weight] started yelling at the bench. It's not every day you see that either. There's different things that went on there when we were down 3-1. It got the team together and we started playing."

The Islanders seemed energized by the fight and gave the Penguins everything they could handle. But it may have been what Okposo needed to lift his game to where he and the Islanders knew it should have been all along.

"Yeah, maybe … I don't know," Okposo said. "It was good for the team and for the guys, it lit a spark. Personally, maybe it helped me get into the series a little bit. I don't know if I could point to that specifically that's why I was producing offensively."

Okposo is off a solid start for the Islanders this season. In nine games, he had three goals, seven assists and a plus-1 rating. But he said he's capable of more.

"I think I've been OK," Okposo said. "I've been getting better. I thought last game I could have been better defensively for sure. We had a couple of lapses and I thought I could have done a better job of getting into the game. Overall, I've been decently happy with it. I think we've had some good games and some not-great games.

"I just want to keep getting better. I think I've been doing some things well offensively. I just need to keep winning battles and I think the rest will take care of itself."

As long as Okposo continues to skate on New York's top line alongside captain John Tavares, the offensive chances will continue to be there. With Tavares getting the majority of the attention from the opposition, Okposo will get opportunities as long as he works to find open ice.

"You know you're going to get chances and offensive-zone time playing with him," Okposo said of Tavares, a Hart Trophy finalist last season. "But that being said, they're keying on him so much, you have to get open and try and create space yourself."

Tavares said, "We've had some good moments and we've had times where we can be a little better, obviously. I think that just goes with the way things have gone for our team to start the season. There have been some good things on the power play, but we could still be better 5-on-5. I think we know there's room to get better and grow and be more productive and more efficient as well."

Islanders coach Jack Capuano has spent time shuffling lines this season, but he's kept Okposo with Tavares for much of it. He's liked what he's seen from his 25-year-old right wing.

"I think he's played harder," Capuano said. "I think he can play smarter at times, but I can't fault his work ethic and his ability to get in on the forecheck, drive his legs and be the power forward that he is. I'm pleased with the way he's playing. If he can continue to do that, he's going to help our hockey team."

The Islanders won three of their first nine games (3-3-3) and have experienced difficulty protecting leads on home ice. Friday they'll be back in a familiar place, when they'll face the Penguins at Consol Energy Center.

Who knows … perhaps Okposo will light another spark for his team?

"It's definitely going to be interesting going in there and not being a playoff game," Okposo said. "But it's another two points we've got to get."

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

Author: Brian Compton | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 MTL 61 40 16 5 167 135 85
2 NYR 60 38 16 6 190 148 82
3 NYI 62 40 20 2 200 173 82
4 TBL 62 37 19 6 203 167 80
5 PIT 61 35 17 9 176 152 79
6 DET 59 33 15 11 173 154 77
7 WSH 62 33 19 10 184 156 76
8 BOS 60 29 22 9 158 158 67
9 FLA 61 26 22 13 145 172 65
10 PHI 62 26 25 11 164 181 63
11 OTT 58 25 23 10 166 161 60
12 NJD 61 25 27 9 137 161 59
13 CBJ 60 26 30 4 157 189 56
14 TOR 61 25 31 5 170 185 55
15 CAR 59 22 30 7 134 159 51
16 BUF 62 19 38 5 120 207 43

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Tavares 62 29 34 4 63
K. Okposo 46 14 30 -2 44
R. Strome 62 13 26 21 39
B. Nelson 62 17 19 6 36
F. Nielsen 62 11 25 11 36
A. Lee 56 20 12 12 32
J. Bailey 50 12 19 10 31
J. Boychuk 52 7 22 15 29
N. Leddy 62 8 17 14 25
T. Hamonic 52 4 19 16 23
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
J. Halak 32 13 0 .910 2.49
C. Johnson 8 7 1 .890 2.95

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